When the original Titanfall released in 2014 many gamers lamented the lack of a single player campaign and shied away from the very concept of a multiplayer-only online game.
I was not one of these gamers. I truly adored the original game. It had a satisfying gameplay loop facilitated by top-tier controls, impeccable map design and fun game modes. I enjoyed the game so much as it was that I was concerned that adding a campaign for Titanfall 2 might not make good use of what I loved so much about the first game; traversal and kinetic movement all designed around the central loop of earning enough points by killing other players, AI and working the objective to call down a Titan and change the tide of a game. I just couldn’t wrap my head around how these mechanics would translate into a campaign that historically has to slow down to let the story play out. It turns out, my concerns were for naught because Respawn not only found a way to make the existing mechanics work in a campaign, but also added some new ones that surprised and elated me throughout. The campaign turned out to be flat-out, smile-inducing fun. Beyond this, they managed to make the multiplayer even better and more rewarding than the original, making what is easily one of the most fun games I’ve played in a really long time.
The story that exists in Titanfall 2 isn’t anything mind-blowing on the surface. Players assume the role of generically named rifleman Jack Cooper who longs to be a Titan Pilot for the Frontier Militia in their fight against the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation (IMC). It’s all very standard sci-fi conflict and doesn’t really offer much more than a narrative reason for the conflict between the two factions. Had Respawn settled for just a standard war story like their previous Call of Duty efforts, it would probably have felt a little more “been there, done that” and the game would have suffered for it. Instead, the focus of the game is on the relationship between Cooper and his Titan, BT-7274 (BT). Through some typical plot machinations, Cooper is thrust from rifleman to pilot who gets a neural-link with BT (as pilots are required to do with their Titans) and has to carry on the mission of investigating whatever it is the IMC is doing to get control of on the planet.
In fact, the story is so basic at the early portion of the game that I was genuinely concerned if I would be able to make it through the whole thing. The early chapters serve as setting up the conflict, the characters and the mechanics of the game. However, during these early stages is where the campaign Titanfall 2 really is starts to surprise you. BT has a genuine, albeit dry, sense of humour and makes the interactions between BT and Cooper pretty fun to listen to. There are even some dialogue choices you can make that will elicit different responses from BT that are usually pretty amusing, or even laugh-out-loud funny at times, making BT a very endearing character. The writing isn’t on the level of Portal 2 or even the original Portal for that matter, but it is entertaining and works to make the actual story of the campaign work far more than I thought it would initially. It even makes the beginning portion of the game much better in retrospect.
Pointedly, the element of pleasant surprise carries through nearly every aspect of Titanfall 2’s campaign. The smart ways the levels are designed as not only shooting arenas but also platforming puzzles that require using the traversal skills of the pilot, often at the same time, makes the game a joy to actually play. The controls are perfect and refined in a way that feels great, never complicated and truly made me feel a true sense of being a powerful pilot able to navigate and survive everything Respawn could throw at me. To top it off, there are even boss battles introduced with smash zooms and title cards for their respective pilots. These boil down to being introduced to some of the new Titan models that you’ll be using in the multiplayer and fighting them in a unique area where you have use your Titan abilities and the environment.
Once you’ve beaten a boss Titan and their pilot, you’ll be given that particular Titan’s loadout for BT. There are six loadouts in total, one for each multiplayer Titan, and it works really well as a primer for that Titan’s ability for when you do begin multiplayer properly. For the purposes of the campaign, you can switch between these loadouts at any time by pressing right on the D-pad. This will pause the game to allow you to select a loadout and resume once selected thus changing how BT fights in any situation you’re controlling him in. It works really well in the game and serves to give players a chance to learn the ropes of these loadouts without the pressure of being stuck with a Titan you may not click with later in multiplayer.
Outside of BT, which happens pretty often, Cooper must navigate different environments to progress the campaign and this is truly where the gameplay of Titanfall 2 shines. All of the levels are designed with your abilities in mind but never feel inorganic or inserted by demands of the mechanics. The way some cover shooters often have conveniently placed cover, for example. Instead Respawn lets the player figure it out and it always feels rewarding, despite there only really being one real way to get through the area. It’s incredibly smart in its design. However, nothing at all prepared me for what happens just over midway through the game.
Respawn inserts an entirely new mechanic that blew my mind. I won’t dare spoil it here because it was a surprise so fantastic that I was grinning from ear to ear as I made my way through the level. It’s quite literally a game changer and makes me want to see Respawn make an entire game with this mechanic. It’s that incredible. It only lasts for this chapter, but it made such a lasting impression that I can’t wait to play through the level again and again. Trust me, this isn’t hyperbole. Beyond adding a new, amazing wrinkle to the gameplay for this section, I want to know the wizardry Respawn used to even make it possible without even so much as a hitch.
Such care and surprise speaks to the campaign as a whole. The pacing is pitch perfect, constantly throwing new tweaks at you that makes no two sections similar and nothing overstays its welcome all the way through to the end of the game. It keeps the roughly five-hour campaign always a joy to play without a dull moment, ramping up and constantly surprising. It even makes using the Smart Pistol one of the coolest weapons in the game. Between making me care about BT, the ever-evolving gameplay and the variety of the environments, Titanfall 2’s campaign is one of the most pleasant surprises I’ve had in years.
If I have any complaint about the campaign, it’s that Jack Cooper just isn’t a very interesting character. The voice actor plays nearly everything with the same note no matter the circumstance. It’s not a major issue and it certainly didn’t detract from anything I enjoyed about playing through the campaign, but when every other aspect is so well done, it did stand out no matter how minor of an issue.
With the stellar campaign out of the way, it’s time to address what many will find to be the main draw of Titanfall 2: the multiplayer. While the amazing traversal and shooting remain largely unchanged, there are some key differences for players familiar with the original Titanfall. These changes range from minor to major, so let’s start with the minor changes first. Tactical abilities have been overhauled with some from the original game returning, others being replaced. Returning are Stim, which is a temporary boost in speed and health regeneration, and Cloak, which temporarily makes the pilot “invisible” and harder to detect by Titans. What hasn’t returned is Active Radar Pulse (ARP) which “pinged” the map and would allow you to see other pilots and such through walls in limited fashion which helped with situational awareness. Instead that is now a Titan ability, albeit in a tweaked form. More on that in a bit.
New to Titanfall 2 are Pulse Blade, taking the place of ARP but in a far more limited form in that it pings the minimap and doesn’t show enemies through walls. It’s also a one shot weapon if thrown and connects at an enemy Pilot. Then there is the Grapple, which shoots a grappling hook, pulling you to higher points on the map and makes traversal much faster. You can also use it to grapple other pilots, pulling them to you for a quick melee kill and to get on top of Titans to Rodeo them quicker. Holo Pilot will mimic the pilot’s last move, throwing off enemies. A-Wall, which is a pilot-sized particle shield that makes your shots more powerful.
You’re still required to score points by getting kills or completing objectives to fill your meter before you can call upon a Titan to embark and control, or allow to move and attack using their AI. It’s in the Titans themselves where the major changes exist. While the previous game had three different Titans that basically boiled down to armour and mobility, Titanfall 2 has six different Titans that not only have different defensive capabilities but also different offensive weapons and Cores (think supers in other multiplayer games). In Titanfall every Titan chassis could equip any weapon, but in Titanfall 2, each Titan has their own unique primary weapon, ordinance, defensive an Core ability. It changes up how you’ll engage with each Titan on the field and each has their own advantages and disadvantages. For example, Scorch can take more damage but can’t dash as a default. Ronin can’t take as much damage, but is much more mobile and so on.
In Titanfall 2, Titans don’t have a shield to start, and in order to get one you will either have to embark on your Titan with a battery or have a friendly pilot insert one. The only way to get a battery is to either Rodeo a Titan and remove theirs, or to pick one up as a pilot from an enemy that died carrying one. This engenders team work in a way that the first game didn’t, makes using and maintaining Titans require much more thought and care, and ultimately can mitigate situations where one team will have a nigh unstoppable army of Titans that will basically make any sort of offensive useless. These changes can and will be initially off-putting to fans of the first game, but after playing for many hours, these changes make a lot of sense and make Titanfall 2 better for it.
Titanfall 2 also features double the amount of game modes that Titanfall had at launch. Returning favorites are Attrition, which served as the original game’s variation of Team Deathmatch, and Amped Hardpoint, which is Titanfall’s version of Domination, with the new wrinkle being that filling up the capture meter twice “amps” the location and gives you more points the longer you hold it. Also returning are Capture the Flag and Last Titan Standing, which is gamemode that starts you with your Titan and continues until one team has destroyed all of the others’ Titans. There’s also Pilot vs Pilot, which is an 8v8 mode with no Titans or AI. Sorry fans of Marked for Death, it’s not here at launch. I’m hoping it makes it in with a future, free update.
New to Titanfall 2 are Skirmish, which is more of a traditional Team Deathmatch without the AI; Free-for-all, which is every man and Titan for themselves; Coliseum which is basically a cage match of 1v1; Variety which rotates through the 6v6 modes; Ground War which is a rotation of two 8v8 modes; and lastly, and my personal favorite, Bounty Hunt. Bounty Hunt takes the basic of Attrition and adds in that kills earn you money. You carry your bounty with you until you can deposit it, but if you die before you can, you lose half of what you’re carrying. The twist is, you can only deposit in two designated “banks” and these are only open for a short amount of time between waves of enemies. Waves take place in two drop locations where each team is free to attack the AI that is located there or each other. After each round, the game will send in two “Bounties” in the form of AI Titans that take way more damage and require team work to take down. Claiming this bounty will automatically deposit it into your bank. The first team to reach $5,000 wins. In all team-based game modes the losing team has to reach an evacuation point while the enemy team hunts them down. Once this epilogue begins players only get one life and managing to escape allows for an XP boost.
Another complaint about the original Titanfall was the lack of guns and unlocks. I won’t digress with my tangent regarding where we came up with this arbitrary quantity of content that will be satisfying enough for millions of different people, but I’ll instead say Titanfall 2 has way more stuff to unlock. More guns, weapon skins, pilot skins, Titan Skins, banners, callsigns, etc. There is plenty to satisfy anyone looking for that perpetual carrot on the stick.
Maps in Titanfall 2 are once again well designed to accommodate both pilots and Titans with what I feel is a slightly greater focus and accommodation for boots on the ground combat. Many maps still offer a significant amount of verticality, but many also have more lane-based design which may or may not please people who enjoyed the almost limitless freedom the previous game offered. For me, I just think it’s a little tougher to chain runs like you could on every map in Titanfall and works to make the action more focused so it happens more often. It’s an adjustment for sure after hundreds of hours of Titanfall but I’ve already come around to understanding why these decisions were made.
If Respawn had simply doubled-down and released the multiplayer for Titanfall 2 as it exists now, I would still easily recommend it. They’ve tweaked the existing formula in deeply satisfying ways that extend the life of the game immensely. However, by adding a truly surprising and impeccably designed single-player campaign that is consistently fun to play, as a package Titanfall 2 is the most pure, minute-to-minute fun I’ve had with any game this year.